Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 6 (1968) [20:33]
Lumen in Christo (1974)* [21:33]
Symphony No. 7, The Sea (1977)* [18:13]
1. Lo, the unbounded sea [7:44]
2. The untold want [4:19]
3. Joy, shipmate, joy! [6:10]
*Seattle Chorale
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. 15-16 October 1989 (No. 6), 6-7 June 1994 (Lumen in Christo), 18-19 May 1992 (No. 7), Seattle Opera House, Seattle, USA
Sung texts here

So Gerard Schwarz’s Hanson cycle - first released on Delos - moves towards its conclusion; appropriately enough this volume ends with the composer’s own farewell to the symphony, the Whitman-inspired Seventh. Before that we have the Sixth - commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to celebrate their 185th season - and the choral Lumen in Christo, written for the 50th anniversary of Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. Far from being mere duty pieces all three display the deceptively simple, open-hearted qualities that suffuse so much of Hanson’s work; moreover, his Romantic spirit is undiminished, despite the changed and changing musical milieux of the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s all too easy to sound apologetic when writing about these pieces, but one just has to hear the Sixth - in six continuous movements - to be made aware of a strong and individual voice; from its seminal woodwind theme the symphony is articulated with an economy of style that’s never short on drama. The first big tutti - goodness, what a formidable bass drum - the dry rattle of side drums and the vaunting brass are the hard outer shell, the sustained, string-led lyricism the soft kernel. Schwarz certainly points up the latter most beautifully; and while the long, singing lines of the third movement are ravishing, the more trenchant moments are just as gripping.
What a glorious, elegantly proportioned piece this is, the steady beat of the last two movements - cue that big bass drum - underpinning music of surprising impact and energy. And, as I’ve found with the other discs in this series, the orchestra are very well recorded. They’re joined in the remaining works by the Seattle Chorale, a choir that impressed me greatly in The Lament for Beowulf (review). The women certainly don’t disappoint in the light-filled loveliness of Lumen in Christo, whose opening verses from Genesis point to Haydn as a source of inspiration.
Whereas The Creation is a series of declamatory/descriptive passages interspersed with solos, Hanson’s score is a blend of bold but nicely scaled orchestral statements - just listen to the imposing start - and fine, cloistered singing. There’s a hint of Orffian ostinati as well - tastefully done - and a discreet peal of bells; as for the singing, it’s firmly focused and resolute in its reach. The end of the first section is a good example of Hanson’s talent for spinning the most radiant and memorable tunes from the simplest flax. Lumen in Christo is full of such epiphanies, with perhaps a genuflection towards Bruckner in the chorale-like passages of the second part.
The concluding ‘Lux aeterna’ is intensely moving - how like beams of rubied light in a serene, votive space - and it makes a perfect prelude to the Seventh Symphony. Comparisons with Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony are unavoidable - including the use of lines from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass - but Hanson’s version is much more austere. Grand gestures are kept to a minimum, and dynamics are more finely shaded. As so often with this composer there’s an abiding sense of a very private persona - like Britten’s, perhaps - given to writing of simplicity, strength and quiet astonishment.
Another rewarding addition to this fine cycle, celebrated as much for the composer’s gentle spirit as for Schwarz’s inspired direction. The original Delos engineers also deserve praise for their superb recording, which adds so much to one’s enjoyment of these engaging scores.
Works of distinction and delight, winningly played.
Dan Morgan 

Works of distinction and delight, winningly played.